Gimme Shelter

House Finch_LaVeta-CO_LAH_2316The summer birds have all departed for southern climes or lower altitudes. Many of our human friends have done likewise. Those of us who remain are simmering soup, digging out winter clothes and making sure our homes are snug and warm. The birds who hang around all winter have the same needs—high energy food, winter clothes and snug, warm homes.

We can’t help much with the wardrobe—birds already have down jackets! When they get cold, they simply puff up their feathers, trapping warm air against their bodies. This works remarkably well—until the wind kicks in. And we have a lot of wind.

Continue reading

Spring Cleaning is for the Birds

Western Bluebird @home 2008jun03 LAH 015rrWe’re approaching one of my favorite times of year. It’s bluebird season! We currently have five bluebird boxes on our property. Last year, one was filled with bluebirds and the others were claimed by wrens, swallows, and other cavity nesters.

Now, as a responsible home owner, it’s time to clean them all out. House Wrens typically clean out their own boxes, but bluebirds depend on the landlord to take care of it. That means us. And it’s critical that the box get cleaned before the birds arrive and start to move in. That means now!

Continue reading

What Birds Want for Christmas

Dark-eyed Junco_LaVetaCO_20100320_LAH_0126Santa is making his list—what do birds want for Christmas? There are all sorts of recipes and projects that are meant for wild birds, but so often they’re actually meant to keep us birdwatchers entertained. No one asked the birds for their opinion.

If you really want to please the birds, how about…

A special treat to eat
One year I received a pine cone, cleverly rolled in suet and peanut butter, then in millet. The greasy mixture held (most of) the seed in place. It was adorned with a ribbon for hanging outside as a treat for the birds.

Continue reading

Coops

chicken-coop_lah_9119The biggest investment in keeping chickens is their housing. Chickens are remarkably hardy birds, but they need some sort of shelter to make it though a Colorado winter. They also need protection from raccoons, possums, foxes, owls, coyotes, hawks, weasels, and neighborhood dogs.

Of course, the chickens don’t care what their coop looks like, just as long as it keeps them sheltered and safe. From our human perspective, appearance matters. So does convenience.

What should you consider when designing a coop (or choosing a plan)? Today and next week I’ll share what I’ve learned about housing chickens.

Continue reading

Helping Birds Through the Winter

mountain-chickadee_blkforestco_20100324_lah_1150The tiny bird fluffs its feathers against the cold, while the north wind whips sleet into the pine branches surrounding its perch. With all water sources frozen, it has to use precious body warmth to melt the snow it eats. Last year’s crop of seeds is buried under a layer of white. Wild birds are amazingly hardy creatures, but even the sturdiest Mountain Chickadee (above) finds conditions like these a challenge.

There are a number of ways we can make our yards more hospitable to wintering birds. They need food, water, and shelter to survive. With increased urbanization, all three of these are becoming more scarce, so our efforts may make the difference in whether or not a bird survives until spring.

Continue reading

Being a Good Landlord

wren-box_blkforest_20100401_lah_1227I splurged on two nest boxes this week. I hadn’t meant to—they’re not in the budget—but I reasoned that attracting birds with bird houses was ultimately cheaper than buying ever more bird seed (although I’m sure I’ll do that too).

I recently made my early spring rounds to check out the accommodations I’m offering my feathered visitors. As landlord, I take responsibility for making sure the boxes are safe and clean. I remove any nesting materials from last year, to reduce the chance of parasites infesting the new family. I inspect the boxes for worn out joints, loose screws, and rotting wood. And I make sure they have some sort of predator guard around the entrance hole.

Continue reading